Schubert and Soul Massage

My cat consistently preferred Brahms. There must have been something in the rich flavour and texture that drew her devotion. At the first phrase she would arrive on the right hand side of the music desk and settle until a tricky passage when she would walk slowly across to the left, using my nose as a passing anchor for her tail. This obliterated the music and made me sneeze, but her rumbling purr and dribbling was a sure sign of ecstatic appreciation. I hadn’t the heart to stop such a ritual.
I think our slight hearing loss progressed in parallel.
In her later years, she missed the discreet clang of the tin opener just as I missed the ultrasonic crackle of burning rice. I incinerated so many meals from the piano stool.

I have been thinking about silence and space. Action and stillness. So much music has ceaseless movement.

Schubert’s G major sonata is one of the first works to have arrested me with its use of sculptural arches of space. I heard it for the first time on the radio in 1992. It started my 20 year journey into late sonatas.
For the 48 minutes of Richter’s performance time stood still. I had to lie down and abandon everything so as to inhabit the exquisite present.
In the first movement architectural pillars of harmony give rise to soaring vaults between them. Their sonorous weight and long moments of release into silence allow time for the music to reverberate into the atmosphere and sink deep into your being. In each timeless pause after the sound has floated away, there is still time for the after-ripples to surface before the next wave carries you forwards. An out breath followed by an in breath. Each phrase, each movement has a life of its own, yet spanning the 25 page whole is one single heavenly arc, which as it closes descends home in perfect balance and to echo the opening statement. A rainbow from Alpha to Omega.
Richter’s arc was hewn with chisels of light. The smallest nuggets of phrase polished with silken intellect.

More recently I have been studying a form of rhythmical massage called Einreibung.
It is so like the Schubert.
The hands enfold a limb with soft warmth and a sense of utter well-being. Piano, crescendo, diminuendo. Rest, release, maintain contact. And then, in another key or altered position, finely graduated touch and release. Again and again, with the kind of fluid pulse that is deeply reassuring yet onward moving. Each shift flows seamlessly into the next. The beginning imparts a health-giving statement and the end, an echo of the beginning, a loving conclusion. It touches far more than the superficial soft tissues. In its unwavering attention, it brings heart-warmth and soul-healing.
The hands become unboundaried vessels. The instrument disappears and all that is left is the music.
I am sure that this kind of deep soul massage of the Schubert was what enabled my beloved friend to finally weep for his unborn child.
He had not had classical music as a natural part of his childhood in the way that I had, so was baffled by what he called my endless “plink-plonking” away at the keys…. but after nobly sitting through a mammoth concert of the G major, A major sonatas and the ultimate B flat major, he dissolved in a way he had never experienced.
After this he would ask me to play the slow movement of the B flat again and again. I think he needed to be able to rock into his sadness, safely contained and cradled by Schubert’s subdued grief.

Shortly before he died he said “ you know Jenny, ( he always called me by name) if you weren’t playing the piano all the time, and I am not saying you should stop…. there might be many other things you would love to do”
He was so right. His death was a wake up call to life. What a gift.

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